In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Edited Collections
  • Population
  • Labor
  • Language
  • Late Colonial Rebellions, Independence, and Postindependence Movements
  • Art

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Latin American Studies Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
Gabriela Ramos
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0067


In approximately the late 15th century the Incas dominated a large portion of the central Andes and presided over a rapidly expanding empire encompassing an ethnically diverse population. Inca imperial expansion was brought to a halt by the Spanish arrival in 1532. Although the size of the Andean population at the time of contact with the Europeans is unknown, based on early colonial descriptions and inspection reports historians have estimated that before the Spanish conquest the population of the central Andes could have reached at least ten million people. Deep demographic crisis induced by the Spanish conquest, and colonization altered the composition and distribution of Peru’s native population. On the coast, the indigenous population dropped acutely in the years following Spanish arrival. The region was exposed to intense immigration from within and outside the Andes, and interaction between people of varied origins was widespread. The central and southeastern highlands housed the largest number of native inhabitants, a condition that subsisted in spite of the epidemics that decimated the indigenous population of Peru after the Spanish invasion. Studies tend to focus on the city of Lima and its surrounding territories and southeastern Peru. Among the most prominent themes investigated are the demographic circumstances so far described, life conditions at the new centers of political power, Catholic missions, evangelization and religious repression, the role of indigenous authorities in colonial rule, and the circuits and sites of pivotal economic activity, like mining. Although this bibliography’s main emphasis is on the area today comprising the modern country of Peru, during the colonial period the territory then known as the viceroyalty of Peru was significantly much larger. The links between lower and upper Peru—today Peru and Bolivia, respectively—preceded the Spanish conquest, lasting throughout the colonial period and beyond. This historical connection is reflected in the literature herein organized thematically.

General Overviews

Earliest and influential historical overviews of the native population of Peru appeared in 1946 in the Handbook of South American Indians. Kubler 1946 provided generations of historians of Peru with an illuminating examination of multiple areas of native Andean life as they were affected by Spanish rule. Of comparable importance in setting up the research agenda for the next decades was Rowe 1957, a study of Spanish colonial policies toward the Andean indigenous population. The growing complexity of the field, encouraged by the development of ethnohistory, which combines historical with anthropological methods, is reflected in the increasing number of specialized studies published in the ensuing decades. Studies of late pre-Hispanic and early colonial society are fundamental for any historical understanding of Peru’s native population and have been key to the renewal of the field. As the titles of Kubler 1946 and Rowe 1957 suggest, in the 1940s and 1950s scholars assumed that the indigenous peoples of Peru could be adequately described by the labels “Inca” or “Quechua.” In the late 20th and early 21st centuries ethnohistorians, linguists, and archaeologists have challenged the homogenous portrait of Andean society to reveal its great diversity, reflected in the rivalries and alliances characterizing its political life. These findings have allowed novel interpretations of, for example, the circumstances explaining the fall of the Inca Empire. Given the remarkable expansion of the field, general overviews covering the whole colonial period have become rare. Most recent surveys discuss time periods substantially shorter and focus on discrete subjects (Spalding 1999, Saignes 1999, Glave Testino 1992), although Andrien 2001 is a useful addition to the literature. Most studies about the history of Peru’s native population deal with the population of the highlands. Very few consider the inhabitants of the Amazonian region. Santos Granero 1992 and Varese 2002 are among the few exceptions.

  • Andrien, Kenneth. Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness under Spanish Rule, 1532–1825. Diálogos. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

    This synthesis of recent historical literature addresses a student audience. Based primarily on the historiography written in English, the book endeavors to chart the history of the Andes from the years immediately preceding the Spanish conquest up to the indigenous rebellions that shook the region in the 18th century.

  • Glave Testino, Luis Miguel. Vida símbolos y batallas: Creación y recreación de la comunidad indígena; Cuzco, siglos XVI–XX. Lima, Peru: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1992.

    A unique study of the history of the Canas from the preconquest period up to the early 20th century. The author studies the transformation of the Canas people into colonial Indians and then into republican peasants. One of the key contributions this book makes is putting the concept of the “peasant community” in historical perspective.

  • Kubler, George. “The Quechua in the Colonial World.” In Handbook of South American Indians. Vol. 2. Edited by J. H. Steward, 331–410. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology, 1946.

    Kubler described the subject of his work as an account of the transformation of the Inca community into the modern Quechua settlement. The text is a synthetic and general overview of the history of Quechua speakers presented in stages organized in chronological order. A classical must-read.

  • Rowe, John H. “The Incas under Spanish Colonial Institutions.” Hispanic American Historical Review 37 (1957): 155–199.

    DOI: 10.2307/2510330

    A seminal study by a notable specialist of Andean history. Rowe thoroughly examines the governmental reforms the Spanish applied to either take advantage of the institutions set by the Inca or create new ones to meet their goals of extracting as much surplus as possible from the indigenous population, control population movements, and promote evangelization.

  • Saignes, Thierry. “The Colonial Condition in the Quechua-Aymara Heartland (1570–1780).” In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 3, Pt. 2, South America. Edited by Frank Salomon and Stuart B. Schwartz, 59–137. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Investigates how the indigenous peoples of South America were transformed by colonial rule, starting from the reforms of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in 1570 up to the indigenous rebellions of the late 18th century. Especially strong in its analysis of indigenous authorities or curacas as mediators between the colonial state and the indigenous society. Good for undergraduate teaching because of Saignes’s nuanced picture of colonial society.

  • Santos Granero, Fernando. Etnohistoria de la Alta Amazonía: Siglos XV–XVIII. Colección 500 Años 46. Quito, Ecuador: Abya-Yala, 1992.

    An ethnohistorical overview of the Amazon region from the time of the Spanish conquest up to the end of colonial rule. The book studies themes such as trade and exchanges between the peoples of the Amazon basin and those of the highlands, the Spanish conquest, religious missions, and indigenous rebellions.

  • Spalding, Karen. “The Crises and Transformations of Invaded Societies: Andean Area (1500–1580).” In The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 3, Pt. 2, South America. Edited by Frank Salomon and Stuart B. Schwartz, 904–972. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Focusing on the first fifty years of Spanish presence in the Andes, Spalding carefully highlights the transitional character of the period and its long-term consequences. The author’s insights into and criticisms of the historiography are illuminating, as is the bibliographical essay at the end. Excellent for undergraduate teaching.

  • Varese, Stefano. Salt of the Mountain: Campa Asháninka History and Resistance in the Peruvian Jungle. Translated by Susan Giersbach Rascón. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

    English translation of what for a few decades was one of the few ethnohistories of an Amazonian people, the Asháninka, one of the largest indigenous groups living in central Peru. Originally published in 1968, this study involves Asháninka history and ethnography from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

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